The long and winding road to Wickford Junction

an artist's rendering of the Wickford Junction station

To mark today’s groundbreaking on the new Wickford Junction train station in North Kingstown, I have a new story up on the main site looking at the first expansion of commuter rail service in Rhode Island since 1988:

Commuters will be able to pay $18 for a round-trip train ride from North Kingstown to Boston and back when MBTA service is extended to South County a little more than a year from now. …

With the addition of Wickford and the opening of the near-finished intermodal facility at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island is getting its first extension of commuter rail service since Providence-Boston service restarted 22 years ago.

You can read the rest of the article here. (Please do!) In the meantime, here are a few other interesting anecdotes about how the project got off the ground.

When I talked with Sen. Jack Reed yesterday – who has been working on getting a new Wickford station since the early 1990s – he reminisced about his long-serving predecessor, Claiborne Pell, and how Pell’s vision helped lay the groundwork for expanded rail in the state.

“He wrote a book called ‘Megalopolis Unbound’ – only Claiborne could come up with a title like that,” Reed said, chuckling. (The book came out in 1966, at the end of Pell’s first term – ironically, just a few years before the old Wickford Junction station closed.)

“He talked prophetically about the need for fast, environmentally friendly train service in the Northeast Corridor,” Reed said. “He was someone that had a great sort of vision for the potential for intercity transit, train travel in particular.” Former Sens. John and Lincoln Chafee also backed the idea, he said.

Still, it’s one thing to have the vision, and another thing to corral (in the case of Wickford Junction) $43 million in federal funding for a $52 million project, including $32.6 million in earmarks secured by Reed himself. While federal authorization for the station was granted way back in 1998, it took 12 years for the groundbreaking to finally happen.

When it comes to federal funding, it helps that Reed has a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the powerful panel that controls spending. He is making his way up the ranks there, 11th in seniority this year and likely 10th come January, depending on the outcome of the midterm elections.

Reed said the argument he made over the last decade for the Wickford project was that it made sense economically and environmentally. “But still, there are a lot of projects out there that make a lot of sense,” he said. “You have to advocate aggressively.”

Also helpful is Reed’s relationship with Peter Rogoff, whom President Obama appointed last year to head the Federal Transit Administration, the agency that works with local transit systems.

Rogoff, who was scheduled to join Reed and other officials at the groundbreaking Wednesday, spent 22 years as an appropriations committee staffer, more than half of those as the Democrats’ point man on transportation funding. So he and Reed know each other well – which can’t hurt the Ocean State as officials mull the expansion of train service to other communities like Westerly, Cranston and Pawtucket.

(Image credit: Wickford Junction & Associates)

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